STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Behind Tom Thibodeau's rigorous defensive coaching, the Bulls have emerged as a premier Eastern Conference force, finishing at the top of the standings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with Derrick Rose running the offense from the point. Still, Rose could not lift the Bulls through a rugged playoff schedule three seasons years ago, and a knee injury against the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 derailed any hopes of advancing further. The Bulls have been able to get by behind an extremely deep roster, and have consistently had luck drafting at the end of the first round, scoring key rotation players in Jimmy Butler with the 30th pick in 2011 and Taj Gibson with the 26th pick in 2009. Rookie sharpshooter Tony Snell, taken with the 20th pick in June, hopes to follow that tradition, but will figure into Thibodeau's plans only minimally at first.
Heading into the 2013-2014 season, the Bulls hope the return of Rose and a leaner, younger roster will enable them to vault to the top of the Eastern Conference after an early playoff exit in May. The emergence of Butler as a starting-caliber shooting guard made Richard Hamilton expendable, and Thibodeau will rely heavily upon Mike Dunleavy Jr. to provide length and three-point shooting off the bench after Marco Belinelli departed in free agency. Otherwise, the core of the team has remained intact since Rose last played seventeen months ago, as the Bulls will return four of five starters (Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Rose) from two years ago. Expect this to be another top five defensive team, with Rose being the primary fantasy contributor, with some chances for usefulness from the supporting cast.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Derrick Rose finally returns as the starting point guard, but his health will dictate whether Thibodeau can return him to a 35 minutes per game role. Rose may be eased back into his old role in the early going while veteran Kirk Hinrich and sophomore Marquis Teague split the remaining minutes off the bench.
Rose looks healthy in preseason return
Jimmy Butler solidified his hold on the shooting guard position in increased minutes in the playoffs, and could see as many as 35 mpg to begin with. His role as a scorer may evolve with consistent outside shooting. Offseason acquisition Mike Dunleavy will be used in much the same way as last season, seeing around 20 mpg between the two and the three. Barring injury, New Mexico rookie Tony Snell will be primarily a late game option.
The Bulls did little to shore up their frontcourt this offseason. Luol Deng's defensive wizardry has made him a Thibodeau favorite, and the veteran will log around 40 mpg at small forward in the last year of his contract, with Dunleavy Jr. and Snell splitting time behind him. Boozer remains the starting power forward, but the Bulls' defensive emphasis means that backup Gibson may see his time increase to 25 mpg, limiting opportunities for training camp invites Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy to emerge.
At the five, Joakim Noah continues to nurse a nagging foot injury that caused him to miss 12 of the Bulls last 15 regular season games, but should retain a 35 mpg role as the centerpiece of Thibodeau's post defense. Recently re-signed Nazr Mohammed will reprise his backup role from last season.
Joakim Noah: The Florida product saw his role expand from 30 to 36 mpg last season, and responded by posting career highs in points (11.9), assists (4.0), rebounds (11.1), blocks (2.1) and steals (1.2). The Bulls will keep a close eye on his minutes as he rehabs a foot injury, but Noah remains an across-the-board threat in defensive categories and a sneakily good source of assists.
Nazr Mohammed: Re-signed in July as the primary option behind Noah, Mohammed, a journeyman veteran, is one of the league's oldest players at 36 and will play a small supporting role at the five, good for a handful of points and rebounds in late game situations.
Dexter Pittman: Although providing size at center at 6-11, Pittman was unable to earn significant minutes behind Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen, and was cut by Memphis only seven games after being acquired in a midseason trade. Pittman will be given another chance to prove him in Bulls training camp, but will not be an important contributor if he makes the team.
Carlos Boozer: Though no longer the All-Star caliber threat he was in Utah, Boozer was a consistent double-double option last season and a major source of offensive firepower with Derrick Rose out for the year. Still, inconsistent shooting, shaky defensive play, the emergence of Taj Gibson and Thibodeau's decision to reconfigure the Bulls offense could eventually reduced Boozer's role in the core rotation going forward.
Luol Deng: The durable swingman has been the team leader in minutes since Thibodeau took the helm in 2010, but has never been a consistent source of counting statistics. He should assume a reduced offensive role with the return of Rose and the emergence of Jimmy Butler as a wing option, which may hurt his scoring averages but increase his efficiency over the course of the season.
Taj Gibson: Signed to a four-year, $38 million extension last November, Gibson will be first off the bench in the frontcourt and should see a spike in minutes with his elite perimeter defense, which has become increasingly valuable against stretch-fours and the pick-and-roll. Carlos Boozer could be an amnesty clause victim next summer, meaning that Gibson's statistical ceiling, on par with career averages for points, rebounds, and blocks last year, could rise, especially now that a nagging knee injury has fully healed.
Mike Dunleavy Jr.: Brought in to provide three-point shooting off the bench after Marco Belinelli departed in the offseason, at 33, Dunleavy Jr. is not expected to see major minutes, but is an efficient shooter, hitting 44.2 percent of his field goal attempts and 82 percent of his free throws last season, and should be able to reprise his success from beyond the arc (42.7 percent) in a somewhat reduced role on the Bulls bench.
Tony Snell: Coach Thibodeau is notorious for burying his rookies in the depth chart. Snell, the 20th pick in the June draft, figures to be no exception as available minutes will be sparse at shooting guard and small forward unless Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng go down with injury. He should eventually be a difference-maker if his shooting range and defensive acumen translate to the NBA.
Malcolm Thomas: Waived by the Bulls in July due to poor production last season, Thomas will be given a chance to prove himself after showing promise in Las Vegas Summer League action, averaging 11 points and 15 boards per game. He could be a garbage time rebounding option if he wins a spot on the roster.
Erik Murphy: Drafted in the second round in June, Murphy will have a small window of opportunity to develop into a stretch-four option off the bench, averaging 43.5 percent from beyond the arc in his college career. He could be a pick-and-pop option in limited minutes, but the Florida product will have to prove a capable defensive rebounder first, an area which he struggled in under Billy Donovan.
Derrick Rose: Rose, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is perhaps the most talked-about player in the NBA this side of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Still only 25, Rose reportedly returns from seventeen months on the bench in terrific shape, but faces a multitude of questions in his comeback campaign. Will he retain the explosiveness that made him such a lethal attacker? Expect him to be eased into his former role in the early going, but he's still the centerpiece of the offense, and if he's anything like his old self, a big campaign could be in store for Rose.
Jimmy Butler: Butler's emergence as starting shooting guard was the bright spot of last season for Bulls fans. Given an large role in the playoffs, Butler shined, averaging 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shot 40.5 percent from three in 40.8 mpg. Just 24, Butler should continue to improve, and could see increased production as Derrick Rose is eased back into leading the first-team offense.
Kirk Hinrich: Signed by the Bulls in July 2012 in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury, Hinrich, a converted two-guard, won the plurality of minutes at the point last season, but a swollen right foot and a ruptured calf limited him to 60 games and a meager 7.7 points per contest on 37.7 percent shooting from the field. These are foreboding signs for Hinrich, who will return to the bench and could see a further decline in minutes should Marquis Teague emerge as Rose's primary backup.
Marquis Teague: Teague was not offered much of a role behind Hinrich and Nate Robinson last season, but didn't do much to distinguish himself either, scoring 2.1 points and dishing out 2.3 assists in 8.2 mpg. With Robinson gone to Denver as an unrestricted free agent, Teague will be given a chance to compete with Hinrich for the backup point guard slot behind Rose, but will need to rein in a shaky jump shot and show more assertiveness in running the second team offense to merit further consideration.
Mike James: Still kicking at 38, James is in the hunt for a roster spot in Bulls training camp after usurping Darren Collison's starting role in Dallas last season. Though likely to find a home somewhere in the league this year, James is not a lock to make the team, as the Bulls need size more than point guard depth.
Jimmy Butler: Butler's string of impressive performances on the big stage has made him a fan favorite, but the hype is worth believing. He can rebound, shoot the three, collect steals and will stay on the floor for long stretches because of his defensive abilities. In a categories league, Butler's ability to produce vastly exceeds his draft slot.
Carlos Boozer: Brought into Thibodeau's rotation for his rebounding and mid-range shooting, Boozer is a shell of his former self, and could lose minutes to Taj Gibson, favored for his defense.